The New Yorker:
Did threatening a Third World War give Vladimir Putin a tactical victory in Syria this weekend? It seems that way: after days of Russian officials darkly hinting—at times shouting outright hysterically—that U.S. missile strikes in Syria would be met with an escalatory counterattack, the American military seems to have hit a more minimal, less provocative selection of targets.
On Saturday morning, Putin, unsurprisingly, offered up ritual bluster and outrage, calling the strikes “an act of aggression against a sovereign state that is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism,” and warning that “history will put everything in its place,” citing U.S. interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya. But that fiery rhetoric—more theatrical than substantive—may be the limit of Russia’s immediate reaction, or at least a signifier that its response will not be on the battlefield.
The Syrian military bases and facilities struck by the United States, United Kingdom, and France, were not targets of particular significance to Russian military operations in Syria or locations that housed Russian troops or equipment. In fact, it seems that Russia had some idea of what to expect ahead of time. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that, although the U.S. military did not coördinate targets with Russia ahead of time, it used the “deconfliction” line between the two countries to warn where Western forces would be operating. However, a report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Saturday morning said that French military officials had in fact warned their Russian counterparts of the impending strikes. (A columnist in Kommersant dubbed the whole episode “war by agreement.”) In turn, an official close to the Assad regime told Reuters, “We had an early warning of the strike from the Russians.”
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